Forty-Five Years as an Independent Manufacturers’ Rep: A Fun, Rewarding Career

Posted by on May 26, 2020 in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Forty-Five Years as an Independent Manufacturers’ Rep: A Fun, Rewarding Career

This blog is a summary of Scott Lau’s experiences as president of Marcor Associates, Inc. It is shared so that aspiring reps as well as others in the independent manufacturers’ rep business can gain knowledge that will make them more successful. Brief History With a desire to be an independent manufacturers’ representative for architectural construction materials, I founded Marcor Associates, Inc. in 1975. We have served three distinct customer groups: architects and engineers; general contractors, construction managers and subcontractors; and the manufacturers’ sales and marketing teams that support us. Our primary territory is the State of Virginia, excluding northern Virginia and Washington, D.C. For a few years, we also worked in North Carolina. For a key period of eight years, we worked in northern Virginia, Washington DC, Maryland, and Delaware. Before starting Marcor Associates, I worked for ten years for two large manufacturing companies. This experience, including learning from two important mentors, gave me a well-rounded business background that gave me the confidence to start my own business. Marcor Associates’ history can be captured in five different time periods.  1975-1991 – We experienced rapid growth in sales volume and personnel, based primarily on the volume of one large roofing membrane manufacturer with complimentary sales volumes from numerous other manufacturers of roofing and exterior building products. We grew from a one-man shop to a staff of four sales reps and two sales support people. However, by the end of 1991, because of the demise of the one large roofing membrane manufacturer, we downsized our organization back to a part time sales rep, a support person, and myself. 1992-1997 – We experimented with diversifying into industrial products, representing manufacturers from other countries and providing marketing and sales services for a construction team made up of a general contractor and subcontractors. Although we had some success, the construction team broke up, and one of our major industrial manufacturers decided to change to a direct-hire sales force. Marcor downsized once more, back to a single-employee shop, but this one-person organization became possible because of the new technology developing at the time. Cell phones and the Internet began to impact all industries. 1997-2005 – A friend of mine, with whom I had worked with years earlier, became the sales manager for a new division of another major manufacturing company in the roofing industry. He asked me to join a team of other leading rep organizations throughout the country to launch and build this new division. This presented an exciting opportunity to rebuild Marcor, and we experienced growth for a number of years. However, in 2003, this division was dissolved. Marcor Associates flirted with bankruptcy! 2005-2013 – In 2005, Marcor Associates was awarded a sales territory for the largest insulated metal manufacture in the world that included our home Virginia market, northern Virginia, Washington DC, Maryland, and Delaware. These were the first years that our sales territory included high population cities. High population cities in a any rep’s territory is a key component needed to build large sales volumes. Sales and commissions exploded, and all of the lessons learned during earlier years enabled Marcor to seize these opportunities with integrity, a determined work-ethic, and the sincere personal touch that have always been our driving force. Our reputation grew, and financial success followed. 2013-2020 – These...

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Becoming a Preferred Product Representative

Posted by on March 31, 2020 in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Becoming a Preferred Product Representative

A significant challenge for a representative of architectural construction materials is satisfying the needs of many different customers. Your objective is becoming a preferred product representative for each of them. These customers include architects and engineers who specify your products; general contractors, construction managers and subcontractors who purchase your products; and your manufacturers’ marketing and customer service departments that provide you sales support. We will look at how you can work effectively with each of these customer groups to become preferred. Architects and Engineers (A/E) Although every customer is important, for the architectural construction materials representative, this group requires the most attention and service. If architectural products are not included in the  s, the opportunity to receive a purchase order from your end customer is significantly reduced. For most products that you represent, the A/E’s should demand 40% – 50% of your time. Here is a summary of the keys for satisfying your A/E’s: Understand needs and personalities Provide solutions, not just technical product knowledge Develop strong personal relationships Become a trusted advisor Be professional Respond to questions and concerns on a timely basis Respect their time General Contractors, Construction Managers, and Subcontractors You have worked diligently with the A/E customer group to get your product specified. Now you must provide customer service and product bids to general contractors, construction managers, and subcontractors in order to receive a purchase order. There are numerous challenges in satisfying the needs of this group. For these businesses, their priority is to receive quotes that help them close a contract for a project that optimizes their profit and strengthens their relationship with their clients. Even if your products are listed in the specifications, or even if they are the basis of design, these customers may not use your price. Here are the keys to satisfying the needs of general contractors, construction managers, and subcontractors—and therefore closing more projects: A person-to-person relationship is still critical to sales success. These customers work with the product representatives they respect and with whom they enjoy working. Your product price is only one component required to close a sale. Develop strong personal relationships with your key customers in this group to close more sales. This group of customers is likely to be large. Divide them into key, second level, and third level customers. Focus on the key customers. The Pareto Principle (80/20 rule) holds true with this group. Approximately 80% of your orders will come from only about 20% of your customers. Be professional. You will not get every order. Learn from each quote and personal contact to build your understanding of each customer’s needs. Offer your most competitive price on each project, but more importantly sell solutions to their needs and problems. Promote the benefits of your product and personal service to build value in their minds. Follow up after shipments to be sure your products arrived as promised and your customer is fully satisfied. Because of the large number of projects that are quoted, there is often a long period of time between purchase orders. Continue to periodically stay in touch with either a short visit (always make an appointment), a brief telephone call, an email, or a text. Manufacturers’ Marketing and Customer Support Departments This is often a forgotten group of customers by architectural materials...

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Selling Architectural Construction Products – Be the Best You Can Be

Posted by on January 2, 2020 in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Selling Architectural Construction Products – Be the Best You Can Be

Selling architectural construction products is a business to business (B2B) type of selling, not retail selling. Although some of the principles of business to business (B2B) are similar to retail selling, most are very different.   Principles common to both B2B and retail selling: Satisfying your customers’ needs Treating your customers with respect Knowing your products’ features and benefits Being a good listener Following corporate guidelines   Key Differentiators for B2B Selling A sales rep must be a consultant and problem solver. More than being knowledgeable about your products is required. You must listen to customers’ needs then show how your products and services satisfy those needs. The sales cycle is often longer than retail. Many sales take weeks, months, or even years to close. More customer contacts are required to close a sale. Attempting to close a sale during an initial call on a customer normally will not happen. It is generally understood that five or more contacts are required. Strong personal relationships are not just important; they are a critical key to success. Entertain customers to foster these relationships. With our interconnected world today, your reputation for honesty and integrity proceeds you. Opportunities to stretch the truth and other sales shortcuts are always tempting to use to build relationships and close sales, but never, never, never compromise your integrity!  Develop close working relationships with inside sales personal and other key people with the manufacturers you represent.It takes a team, including the salesperson as well as others in the organization, to become a preferred vendor with a business customer. Following up actions and promises is more critical. A sale does not end with a purchase order. Continuous effort by the entire team until a product is delivered to the customer is required. Be an expert in your product or service. Be fully knowledgeable, so you can clearly and succinctly explain both the features and benefits of your products. Know the basic features and benefits and the strengths and weaknesses of your competition. Your customer expects you to be able to compare your product to competition, so he can understand why your product and services best satisfy his needs.   Selling Architectural Construction Products In addition to following the differentiators of B2B selling, to be the best you can be in selling architectural construction products requires understanding and implementing principles specific to the construction industry. From the time a call is made on an A/E (architect or engineer) to discuss the application of a product on a specific project through the order from your end customer might take up to a year, or possibly even longer. Your product first must be specified; the project must go out to bid; a builder/subcontractor must be selected; and finally, an order is received. The sales process is very different than “route selling,” where the salesperson follows the same route and routine on a weekly or monthly basis. To maximize orders and to make closing orders with your end customer easiest and efficient, assisting the A/E to develop well-written building project specifications is very important. Having your product listed in specifications as the basis of design is the optimum goal. To be the best you can be, you must develop relationships and confidence with multiple players. These players include A/E’s, general contractors, subcontractors,...

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Assisting Architects with Specification Writing

Posted by on August 1, 2019 in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Assisting Architects with Specification Writing

 (Article 5 of the series on “Becoming an Independent Manufacturers’ Rep Who Develops Specifications with Architects and Engineers“)   In the “Product” section of a specification, the architect or engineer (A/E) describes or lists the manufacturers and products that are qualified to bid the project. In many specifications, this might be a laundry list of manufacturers. However, it is best to help the architect select three competitive manufacturers, including the one you represent. Some architects use the “or equal” clause to allow other manufacturers to bid. Sometimes, a ten-day prior approval is required of manufacturers who are not listed. Often, the A/E chooses not to review substitutions until after they award of the project. In any case, as a trusted advisor, you have the ability to make the architect aware that you will help in evaluating substitutions to be sure they truly provide the client with the same performance as the products described or listed in his specifications. Whether the specifications are being written by an in-house or outside specification writer or another member of the design team, the goal is to have the product(s) you represent become the design standard of the specification. When your product becomes the design standard, this gives you the best chance of selling your product to whomever is the ultimate purchaser in the construction process being used. When working with an A/E, particularly for the first time, it is beneficial to you and the A/E to review his specifications. This gives you the opportunity to be sure the performance characteristics of your product(s) are used in the specification—or at a minimum that the performance characteristics the specification writer prefers does not prevent the bidding of your product. If the specification writer asks you to write a specification for a particular project from scratch, it is best to use the specification published by your manufacturer. Simply modify it to be in the format preferred by the A/E’s office. If you use proprietary product characteristics, be sure the architect understands why this is important for the project, because using these characteristics will limit manufacturers who can bid. However, when all is said and done, leave the final decision to the architect. Overstepping your bounds will not result in the relationship you are looking for. Often, specifications are written with short deadlines. If you are assisting architects with specification writing or writing specifications from scratch, be cognizant of the deadlines. Submit information when promised. If you have questions about working with an A/E on a specific project or have general questions about assisting in writing specifications, please contact Scott Lau Consulting online or call...

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Becoming a Trusted Advisor

Posted by on July 25, 2019 in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Becoming a Trusted Advisor

(Article 4 of the series on “Becoming an Independent Manufacturers’ Rep who Develops Specifications with Architects and Engineers”)   The term “trusted advisor” is a catchy phrase used in many business environments. Yet how do you know one when you see one? As noted by the article, “What Does a Trusted Advisor Look Like?” a trusted advisor can be identified by these characteristics: Someone looking for a long-term relationship, not short-term gain; Someone who puts clients’ interests in front of their own; Someone who is genuinely interested in their clients and their businesses; Someone who works hard to understand a client’s underlying interests not just surface “wants”; Someone who is reliable – does what he or she says he or she will do; Someone who is credible; Someone who gets up close and personal; Someone who connects emotionally; Someone who is genuinely passionate and enthusiastic; Someone who is authentic. These characteristics apply directly to a trusted advisor who is working with an A/E. For a manufacturers’ representative, becoming a trusted advisor takes time and a focus on being a consultant and problem solver, not simply a sales person. After decades of experience in the construction industry, I have found the following steps are required to become an A/E’s trusted advisor. Answer an architect’s questions clearly and in a timely manner. If you do not know the answer, check with an appropriate source. Give the architect the final answer when promised. When calling to offer design or specification assistance on a particular project, do your best to make the contact at the right stage of the project. A/E’s are very busy and often under time constraints to complete specifications. Some A/E’s accept telephone calls, but most often the initial contact should be made by email. Keep the A/E up-to-date with information about new products or changes to existing products through social media and emails. Do not flood them with constant communication. Keep communication concise and timely. Link your company website to the websites of the manufacturers you represent. Keep the manufacturers you represent limited to one or at most two Divisions of the specifications. The A/E needs to learn and understand what technical areas you can assist with, so he knows when to call for consultation with you. Provide educational lunches and seminars at appropriate times. Get to know an architect personally by spending short times during personal visits to talk about family, hobbies, etc. Entertain the A/E as appropriate. Becoming a trusted advisor might sound intimidating, but it’s doable with thoughtful effort. With this understood, it leads us to our last question, addressed in Article 5, “How does an independent manufacturers’ rep assist architects with specification writing?”  Questions so far? Scott Lau Consulting is ready to be a trusted advisor for you. Contact Scott...

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When should an A/E be contacted to offer specification assistance?

Posted by on July 17, 2019 in Uncategorized | Comments Off on When should an A/E be contacted to offer specification assistance?

(Article 3 of the series on “Becoming an Independent Manufacturers’ Rep who Develops Specifications with Architects and Engineers”)   It is important to understand the complete design process and how construction documents are developed to understand when the architect or engineer (A/E) needs to be contacted by an independent manufacturers’ rep to offer specification assistance. A very simplified description of the design process is comprised of the following phases: Schematic Design – a client’s design objectives are discussed. Alternative approaches to design and construction are developed. Design Development – constructability and integration of products and systems become defined. Construction Documents – final architectural drawings and specifications are developed. The specifications are written during this phase. Often the A/E will call a trusted advisor rep if he needs specification assistance. If he does not, or if a rep is not well established with a particular A/E office, a challenge for a rep is when to make contact to offer assistance for a particular product a rep is working to get specified. The timing depends partially on the type of product. If the product is highly technical or if it is important to the aesthetics, constructability, and final performance of the project, it normally will be necessary for the rep to introduce his product during the design phase. Although the specification will not be written until the later construction documents, the product must be incorporated into the project design for the rep to be asked to help with the specifications. If the product does not meet the criteria above, such as a commodity type product, the appropriate time to offer specification assistance is during the construction document phase. With this understood, it leads us to our next question, addressed in Article 4, “How does an independent manufacturers’ rep for architectural products become a trusted advisor?” Questions so far? Scott Lau Consulting is ready to be a trusted advisor for you. Contact Scott...

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What are Product Specifications and How are They Created?

Posted by on March 20, 2019 in Uncategorized | Comments Off on What are Product Specifications and How are They Created?

(Article 2 of the series on “Becoming an Independent Manufacturers’ Rep Who Develops Specifications with Architects and Engineers“) One of the most important aspects of marketing to architects and engineers (A/E’s) and getting a rep’s products specified is to fully understand the complete construction process and then realize how product specifications fit into this process. Sitting for testing to receive a CDT (Construction Documents Technician) is a critical step. This certification is highly respected by A/E’s. It provides a rep the in-depth knowledge he or she needs and helps open doors into A/E’s offices. Contact Construction Specification Institute (CSI), 110 S Union St #100, Alexandria, VA 22314 for test and certification information. Specifications define the qualitative requirements for products, materials, and workmanship upon which the project contract is based. They are normally written by in-house specification writers, project managers, or outside specification writers for the purpose of deciding which type of specification(s) they will use for a particular project. There are four basic types of product specifications:   Descriptive   Performance   Reference Standard   Proprietary Descriptive Specifications These specify properties of materials and methods of installation. Neither manufacturers nor product names are listed. Since detail technical product knowledge is required, it is the type of specification where a manufacturers’ rep can be invaluable in assisting the A/E to provide the correct product information. Performance Specifications These specify desired product performance results and how those results will be measured and verified. Neither manufacturers nor product names are used. This type specification allows the contractor flexibility in selecting products to be used. If the A/E and his client are interested in using new and innovative products, this type of specification is a good one to use. Reference Standard Specifications These specify products and processes by well-recognized industry standards. Proprietary Specifications These specify manufacturers, product names, specific model numbers and other unique characteristics about a product. Additionally, specs are referred to as being “open” or “closed.” If a proprietary specification is “closed,” one product can be named, or several products can be named as options. A “closed” proprietary specification often does not allow substitutions. In an “open” proprietary specification, alternative acceptable products are listed. Substitutions can be proposed by bidders, but the substitutions must be approved by the (A/E). In either an open or closed specification, one product may be designated as the “design standard.” This gives bidders additional information about the quality expected, if substitutions are submitted for approval. When a rep has an opportunity to assist an A/E in writing a specification, it is very important to remember two basic rules of product specification writing: The specification is to be Clear, Concise, Correct, and Complete Conform to the writing style and format of the author of the specification and his firm. A powerful reference for more information, used for this article is the CSI Construction Product Representation Practice Guide, published by John Wiley & Sons, Inc.. With this understood, it leads us to our next question, addressed in Article 3, “When should an A/E be contacted to offer specification assistance?” Questions so far? Scott Lau Consulting is ready to be a trusted adviser for you. Contact Scott...

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Becoming an Independent Manufacturers’ Rep Who Develops Specifications with Architects and Engineers

Posted by on March 4, 2019 in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Becoming an Independent Manufacturers’ Rep Who Develops Specifications with Architects and Engineers

Introduction One of the most important responsibilities of an independent manufacturers’ rep for architectural products is working with architects and engineers (A/E) to review their product specifications and assist them in modifying them for individual projects. Well-written specifications are critical to the construction of buildings that fully meet the needs and objectives of an A/E’s clients. If there is a conflict between specifications and drawings in the construction documents, the specifications take legal precedent over the drawings. An A/E will only call on a rep for specifications assistance when the rep has developed a high level of technical and ethical confidence with the A/E. To become a trusted adviser like this takes time and a demonstrated commitment to provide honest advice and service. For further background information, an excellent survey discussing A/E specifications is found in the Architect Digest’s article, “The Truth About Specifications,” but how does an independent manufacturers’ rep for architectural products get to the place where the conversation can even begin? My five-part series on Independent Rep & Architects and Engineers Relationships covers: Why is it important for a manufactures’ product to be included in the specification? What are Product Specifications and How are They Created? When should an A/E be contacted to offer specification assistance? How does an independent manufacturers’ rep for architectural products become a trusted adviser? How does an independent manufacturers’ rep assist architects with specification writing? Let’s start with the first of these questions. Why is it important for a manufactures’ product to be included in the specification? Specifications are developed by the A/E to describe the products and systems that are to be used in a project to meet their client’s requirements for quality and performance. The project builder—be it a general contractor, construction manager, or other entity—is expected to provide pricing based on the specifications. Admittedly, they often do not follow the specifications. The builder and his subcontractors submit and use products with which they are familiar, which are more accessible or cheaper, or which make sense to them for many other reasons. At the same time, the builders and subcontractors understand that it makes life easier for them, as well as for the A/E who must approve substitutions, if they do use a product that is included in the specification. If a rep’s product is not in the specifications, the rep, his manufacturer, the subcontractor, and the builder must go through an arduous process of obtaining A/E approval of a substitution. This is called “back dooring” a product into the project. Not only is this time-consuming for the builder and subcontractor, it is time-consuming for the rep and his manufacturer as well as the A/E. The process takes away from selling time. Back-dooring is not good for a manufacturer, nor is it a way to develop strong, personal working relationships with the A/E or any of the other parties involved in a project. With this understood, it leads us to our next question, addressed in Article 2, “What are Product Specifications and How are They Created?” Questions so far? Scott Lau Consulting is ready to be a trusted adviser for you as a trusted adviser. Contact Scott...

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Building Positive Relationships with Rep Principals – 8 Tactics to Bring You Closer Together

Posted by on June 13, 2018 in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Building Positive Relationships with Rep Principals – 8 Tactics to Bring You Closer Together

An independent manufacturers’ representative in the building materials industry must maintain strong relationships with the principals they represent to be successful and profitable. This relationship is critically important with primary principals whose product sales represent a large share of a rep’s business, yet it is also important to build relationships with those secondary, smaller manufacturers, whose products are complimentary to the primary principals. A strategy for building these principal relationships needs to be developed and maintained. To be smart, any independent manufacturers’ representative should always remember the following eight tactics: Agree on a fair contract Maintain regular communications Act as an employee Treat the customer service group as a customer Follow company procedures Aggressively market to architects, engineers and end users Travel with the sales manager Maintain an appropriate number principals These ideas might sound simple, but by putting effort forward in these areas, a manufacturer’s rep is significantly more likely to succeed. I have spent over 40 years as an independent manufacturers’ representative in the building materials industry representing both U.S. manufacturers as well as a few international ones.  Although each manufacture operates differently the common thread that connects them is the importance of building personal business relationships with them as well as with their customers. Most of my career has been representing manufacturers of architectural products.  This has been both challenging and rewarding since it required balance of time and effort marketing to architects as well as handling orders and service with the buying customers. The eight tactics discussed are ones I used over the years from trial and error experiences as well as from discussions with other successful reps during manufacturers sales meetings and building industry conventions and seminars.  These tactics generally work with principals producing commodity products as well as architectural products. Let’s look at each of these tactics one-by-one. Agree on a Fair Rep Contract Most manufacturers in the building materials industry use contracts with manufacturers’ representatives that have a clause stating that either party can cancel the agreement for any reason with just a 30-day notice. Although contracts vary regarding how long a terminated rep can collect commissions, in the real world this is negotiable. Manufacturers might consider how many years the rep has had his contract. Most importantly, the time allowed is based on the rep/principal relationship and how the rep has performed over the years. Because of these one-sided termination clauses, much has been written about rep contracts for the building materials industry as well as many other industries. One of the best sources for additional information is the Manufacturers’ Agents National Association (MANA). Maintain Regular Communications As is true in all relationships, the proper level and type of communications is critical. The sales manager expects and deserves to fully understand what is happening in a rep’s geographic territory. If the line of communication is not active, the sales manager has reason to suspect that a rep may not be doing the work the manufacturer expects. Maintaining strong communications with principals has many components. One way to start off on the right foot is to set sales goals and market development activities at the beginning of each year that meet both the principals’ and a rep’s business objectives. Large manufacturers often set these goals with little or no input from the...

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Marketing Building Materials – Will Your Company be a Disrupter

Posted by on May 15, 2017 in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Marketing Building Materials – Will Your Company be a Disrupter

Overview What is “disruptive marketing”? Why is it important for any manufacturer of building materials products to be successful moving forward? Will your company be a disrupter in the building materials industry? At its core, disruptive marketing is a return to the personal with an online twist. It shakes things up by changing customer perceptions about not just the company—but the industry as a whole. Some say that disruptive marketing doesn’t have a concrete meaning because it is always based on the context of the surrounding world. Are companies in the building materials industry prepared to radically change the way they develop and market their products? In a 2015 study discussed in Forbes Magazine, twenty-five companies were considered to be at the top of the list of marketing disrupters. Not one of them was part of the building materials industry or any other part of the construction industry! The construction industry is inefficient compared to most other parts of our economy. Late in the last century while many American manufacturers were adopting lean manufacturing methods, the construction industry, by and large, continued to construct buildings as they had for decades. Some innovative products were introduced, and some new construction methods were adopted; however, none of them were truly disruptive. The article “Is Disruptive Innovation Possible in the Construction Industry” presents an Australian view on this subject. Looking at a concrete example, the digital age brought disruption to the photographic industry. Kodak, however, did not change. In twenty years, they went from the fourth most valuable brand in the world to bankruptcy. As another example, in the 1980s and 1990s, the personal computer put a stop to Digital Equipment Corporation, Wang Laboratories, and other minicomputer makers. There is good news. Disruptive products and disruptive marketing are still in their infancy in most U.S. industries. Companies that continue to market and do business-as-usual are not that far behind yet, but they will fall behind or go out of business soon if they do not begin thinking how they can be disrupters.   Take Action Now Is your company a leader or a follower? Are you prepared for digital disruption or are you planning to be a disrupter? Developing close personal relationships with a high degree of transparency with customers is one of the most important aspects of disruptive marketing. Building material manufacturers must carefully listen to their key customers to learn what these customers need to innovate in their market and quickly develop products or services to satisfy those needs. What manufacturers hear from customers may mean scrapping products that have been a core, profitable part of a manufacturer’s business over the years but will soon become obsolete, if the manufacturer does not act quickly. Customers can not only help manufacturers develop disruptive products; they can also help market these products through shared positive experiences using social media. In a recent Mckinsey & Company study, Reed Hastings, the CEO of Netflix, said, “Companies rarely die from moving too fast, and they frequently die from moving too slowly.” For another thought-provoking Mckinsey Consulting article, see “An Incumbents Guide to Digital Disruption.” To gain a clearer understanding of what it takes for a company in the building materials industry to become a true “disrupter,” the article 10 Disruptive Marketing Trends All Marketers Should Consider is...

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